Temporal trend in the transfer of sellafield-derived 14C into different size fractions of the carbonate component of NE Irish Sea sediment

Graham K P Muir, Gordon T Cook, Brian G Tripney, Angus B MacKenzie, Helena Stewart, Kiernan M Tierney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


From 1994 onwards, radiocarbon discharges from the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant have been made largely to the northeast Irish Sea. They represent the largest contributor to UK and European populations of the collective dose commitment derived from the entire nuclear industry discharges. Consequently, it is important to understand the long-term fate of 14C in the marine environment. Research undertaken in 2000 suggested that the carbonate component of northeast Irish Sea sediments would increase in 14C activity as mollusk shells, which have become enriched in Sellafield-derived 14C, are broken down by physical processes including wave action and incorporated into intertidal and subtidal sediments. The current study, undertaken in 2011, tested this hypothesis. The results demonstrate significant increases in 14C enrichments found in whole mussel shells compared to those measured in 2000. Additionally, in 2000, there was an enrichment above ambient background within only the largest size fraction (>500 μm) of the intertidal inorganic sediment at Nethertown and Flimby (north of Sellafield). In comparison, the present study has demonstrated 14C enrichments above ambient background in most size fractions at sites up to 40 km north of Sellafield, confirming the hypothesis set out more than a decade ago. © 2015 by the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-354
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • 14C
  • Nuclear fuel
  • Sellafied nuclear complex
  • carbon isotope
  • carbonate system
  • long-term change
  • marine sediment
  • mollusc
  • nuclear power plant
  • nutrient enrichment
  • radioactive waste
  • sediment pollution
  • shell
  • temporal analysis
  • wave action
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Cumbria
  • England
  • Europe
  • Irish Sea
  • Sellafield
  • United Kingdom

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